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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Ruth, Maris, and Ned Williamson

Stephen takes a look at the forgotten home run king.

Baseball fans and the media have long been infatuated with baseball’s single-season homerun record. The media followed every pitch in the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris chase, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa chase, and the recent homerun rampage exhibited by Barry Bonds.



All contemporary baseball fans, and perhaps contemporary non-baseball fans, are well aware that Bonds broke McGwire’s 1998 record of 70 homeruns in a season by hitting 73 in 2001. Moderate baseball fans can tell you that in 1998, McGwire broke Roger Maris’s record of 61, set in 1961. Serious baseball fans could tell you that Maris “broke” Babe Ruth’s record of 60 set in 1927, and they could even explain the asterisk. But, perhaps only a baseball historian can answer the following question: Whose record did Ruth break?



In 1919, for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth hit 29 homeruns to set a new single-season homerun record, surpassing the prior record by only two (and thereafter, Babe left Beantown for the Bronx, leaving behind a unique and vicious hex). The previous record of 27 homeruns in a season stood for 35 years. It was set in 1884 by Ned Williamson who played for Chicago White Stockings in the National League.



There are some interesting facts surrounding Williamson and his record.  A quick glance at Williamson’s career statistics, one immediately wonders how Williamson hit 27 homeruns in 1884, to shatter the previous record of 14. Williamson hit only 64 homeruns in his entire career, which spanned 13 seasons. His next highest season total was only 9.  Four years before breaking the record Williamson had 311 at-bats, in 1880, without hitting a homerun! The year before he hit 27 homers, he hit only 2, while playing a full season. And, the year after he hit 27, he hit only 3. How did Williamson hit 27 homers in 1884, a record that stood for 35 years? Were steroids available in 1884?



A little research reveals the answer. Beginning in 1878, Chicago’s National League team played in Lakefront Park. The distances to the fence at Lakefront Park were amazingly short. It was only 196 feet to right, 252 feet to right-center, 300 feet to left-center, and 180 feet to left. Because the fences were so short, special ground rules were

adopted for Lakefront Park. Every ball hit out of the Park was ruled a double, instead of a homerun. However, for only one year, they changed the special ground rules at the Park. In 1884, balls hit out of Lakefront Park were ruled homeruns. Williamson welcomed the one-year rule by banging out 27.



In 1884, Chicago’s hitters piled-up power numbers previously unthinkable. They hit 142 homers, which broke the previous team record of only 35, set the year before by Cincinnati. Four Chicago players hit over 20 homeruns that season. The closest one to Williamson was Fred Pfeffer (that’s a lot of f’s) who hit 25. Even teammate Cap Anson, the best player of the era and probably the biggest racist in the history of baseball, hit 21 for Chicago in 1884. Interestingly, Anson called Williamson “the greatest all-around ballplayer the country ever saw.”  Despite Chicago’s unprecedented display of power, they finished in 5th place in the National League.



Not surprisingly, Chicago led the league in doubles from 1879 to 1883.  Interestingly, Williamson led the league in doubles in 1883 with 49.  Perhaps the homerun record most deserving of an asterisk was Williamson’s.



It’s possible that Williamson could have hit even more than 27 homeruns in 1884. In the last game of the season, Williamson hit his 27th homerun in the first inning. In the seventh inning, another Chicago player hit a foul ball onto Michigan Avenue. A lengthy search for the ball proved fruitless, and because it was getting dark and they didn’t have another ball, the game was cancelled.



There are several other interesting facts surrounding Williamson. He was the first player to hit 3 homers in a game, which occurred in (surprise, surprise) 1884. Also, although Williamson was not likely aware, he led the league in saves in 1885, with 2. He pitched in 2 games in 1885, and pitched in 12 games during his career, finishing with a respectable 3.34 ERA. Williamson still clings to two other records. Only three National League players have hit 4 homeruns in regular season play in October: Dave Parker, Mike Schmidt, and Ned Williamson. In addition, Williamson played a key role in the 1883 Chicago White Stockings’ (which is a predecessor to the Chicago Cubs) record-setting inning where they scored the most runs ever in one inning. In the bottom of the seventh inning in an 1883 game against Detroit, Williamson led things off for Chicago with an over-the-fence double. During the inning, Williamson came to bat two more times, and he singled both times. In all, in the seventh inning, Williamson went 3 for 3 and scored 3 runs, while Chicago scored 18 runs.  These records still stand.



Since the founding of the National League in 1876, only seven players have held the single-season homerun record. George Hall was the first player to hold the record by hitting 5 homeruns in the National League’s inaugural season, for Philadelphia. In December of 1878, he left a more tarnished mark on baseball, by being banished from the major leagues, with two other players, for having been found to have thrown several games. He would never play major league baseball again.



The next year, 1879, Charley Jones of Boston broke Hall’s record by hitting 9 homeruns. Jones set another homerun record the following year, by hitting 2 homeruns in 1 inning. Harry Stovey broke Jones’s record in 1883 by hitting 14 homeruns for Philadelphia, but he could hold onto the coveted record for only one year. The following season, 1884, Williamson set his mark of 27.



Ruth held the single-season homerun record for the longest period of time, for 42 years. Next in line are Maris, 37 years, and Williamson, 35 years. Then we have the other four record-holders, whose longevity is more aptly characterized as brevity. Jones held the record for 4 years. McGwire stands next to Hall, holding the record for only 3 years. Poor Stovey’s record stood for only 1 year, thanks to the one-year suspension of the special ground rules at Lakefront Park.



Now, how long do you think Bonds can hang onto the record? At the rate we have been seeing homeruns hit in the past several seasons, chances look pretty good that Bonds won’t be able to catch Ned Williamson’s mark for longevity, let alone the marks set by Maris or the Babe.

 

Stephen Jordan Posted: November 10, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: November 10, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607143)
Any chance of getting the park factors for Lakefront Park?
   2. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 11, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607146)
Cap Anson, the best player of the era and probably the biggest racist in the history of baseball

He was certainly the most publicized one, to be sure, but I think it would be difficult to argue that he was any more racist than, say, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It was no accident that the removal of the color line in MLB had to wait for Landis's death.

As Bill James has noted, Anson's behavior only helped to accelerate a process that was well on the way to happening anyway. Anson was very likely no more (and no less) racist than the other key figures of the game in his era.

-- MWE
   3. Marc Posted: November 11, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607149)
It's curious that the reference to Anson being a racist was inserted in this article. Nowhere else does there appear any description or characteristic of any other player in the article, which is largely a look at some historical statistics. I initially thought it must have been because Williamson was black, however, I found a photo of Willimson online and dicovered that he was white. A fine article, just strikes me as odd that the author would drop that line in about Anson for no apparent reason.
   4. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: November 11, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607152)
He was certainly the most publicized one, to be sure, but I think it would be difficult to argue that he was any more racist than, say, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

I know it's common knowledge that Landis was a racist, but is the common knowledge true? In other words, was he prejudiced or was he cowardly (towards integration)?

Just curious.
   5. emancip8d Posted: November 11, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607153)
Similar information can be found in "Clarifying an Early Home Run Record" by John C. Tattersall in the Baseball Research Journal vol. 1, which focuses on the effects of the ground-rule double to home run change in 1884 at Lake Park. Jordan's article does include different/additional information. For instance, Tattersall was not aware of any actual measurements of the park. Also, given the fact (that wasn't in Tattersall's article) that Williamson hit his 27th HR in the final game of the season, it is quite possible that Pfeffer, who ended with 25 HR for the season, may have held the HR lead for a short period during the season. In fact, it is possible that Dalrymple or Anson could have held the record for a short time since they both exceeded Stovey's previous HR record of 14 in 1883 by hitting 22 and 21 HR respectively. But I guess that if that were actually the case that we would have heard about it by now.
   6. jimd Posted: November 11, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607156)
Dan Brouthers hit 14 for Buffalo in 1884; it's the same year, he might deserve an '*', too.

1887 had another bumper crop of early HR hitters. Billy O'Brien hit 19 for Washington, Roger Connor 17 for the NY Giants, and Fred Pfeffer (again) hit 16 for Chicago.

1889 Sam Thompson hit 20 for Philadelphia.

1899 Buck Freeman hit 25 for Washington.
   7. Stephen Jordan Posted: November 12, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607157)
"A fine article, just strikes me as odd that the author would drop that line in about Anson for no apparent reason." -- Marc

Marc: The Anson comment was inserted at the very last moment. Still, I wanted to say something about the comment. Recently, I read a book on the life of Fleet Walker, the first black baseball player. Anson's antics and treatment of Walker during Walker's playing days were horrible. I guess my anger towards his actions still linger. Anson was influential during the period. And, he played a huge role in Walker's inability to continue playing pro ball.

   8. Carl Goetz Posted: November 12, 2002 at 02:02 AM (#607161)
I'm not here to defend Landis- At best, he was afraid to challenge the racial segregation of the period- At worst, he promoted it. It does seem to me unlikely that the color barrier would have broken much earlier than it did even without Landis, especially given that MLB was already 15 years ahead of the rest of the country as far as civil rights was concerned. From everything I've read, alot of the public's (eventual)acceptance of black players was due to strong nationalism following the war and a sense of "if they can die for our country, why can't they play ball?" among the populus. Even without Landis, I couldn't see integration happening before the war. Maybe without Landis, wartime baseball would have employed black players, but we'll never know. Regardless, it probably wouldn't have been Jackie Robinson(since he was in the war)so who knows if it would have worked out as well.
   9. eric Posted: November 13, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607174)
One other point should be brought up with regard to Cap Anson's racism, even at the risk of being politically incorrect. In 1884 (the year Fleet Walker and his brother played), the country was less than 20 years removed from the Civil War. The National League was 8 years old and had just established teams in New York and Philadelphia after moving out of backwoods places like Troy and Worcester. Furthermore, professional baseball was not really considered a respectable profession or a particularly respectable form of entertainment, it was more of a diversion for the lower class immigrants. But even less respectable at the time was associating with black people, who were considered by many to be less than human. Remember that it was the "respectable" people who had the money to pay to see baseball games. So if a color barrier had not been established at that time, it is entirely possible that professional baseball never would have gotten off of the ground to establish itself as the national pastime. Also, remember that Anson had been around since the formation of the National Association in 1871, and by that time had pretty much established himself as the embodiment of the game, so he had a lot riding personally on the success of the game. So, even though by the standards of anybody who gives any thought to the notion of justice, what Anson did was wrong, it is best to remember that very few gave that kind of thought to those issues in 1884 with regard to black people. So don't be too hard on Anson personally, be hard on 1884 society, and be hard on baseball's failure to integrate for so long once it did become a part of the fabric of American culture. (Maybe in the 1900's when college men like Christy Mathewson and Eddie Collins started playing, and John J. McGraw and others wanted to sign talented blacks, or certainly in the '20s when Babe Ruth made fans forget the Black Sox scandal, he probably could have overshadowed the fact that blacks were playing.) Anson was most likely just doing what he felt he had to do to assure the survival of his profession, which isn't exactly the most honorable way to go, but many of us probably would also choose what's practical over what's right. Just some food for thought.
   10. Flatbush Faithful Posted: November 13, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607191)
Eric wrote:

+So, even though by the standards of anybody who gives any thought to the notion of justice, what Anson did was wrong, it is best to remember that very few gave that kind of thought to those issues in 1884 with regard to black people.+

Actually, lots of people were thinking about those issues in 1884. Black people, of course, were very conscious of race-related issues and racism, then as always. 1865 through 1877 were times of great progress for African Americans. The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments and two civil rights acts protected southern blacks against southern whites. Two Senators from Mississippi were black; there were a number of black members of the House of Representatives; and the South Carolina legislature, for a time, had more blacks than whites.

In response, southern whites, in effect, declared war to maintain their economic and political power. The Ku Klux Klan was part of a war of terror that was carried out in secret during that time--and the war came out in the open after the election of 1876, in which Rutherford B. Hayes (remember him?) became president, although he earned only a minority of the popular vote, by gaining the electoral votes of three southern states (Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) in disputed elections in return for promising to end Federal enforcement of the Reconstruction laws that had allowed blacks to progress in the decade after the Civil War.

After Hayes was elected, everything changes. The 1880's are the decade of Jim Crow laws, the establishment of the sharecropper system, the first laws mandating segregation, the beginning of the end of the right of black people to vote in the South--and the establishment of a color line in major league baseball.

There's an article by David Feitz on the exhibition game Anson and the White Stockings (the team that is now the Cubs) threatened to refuse to play (on August 10, 1883) against Toledo because Moses Walker was on the team.

When Anson threatened not to step on the field, according to Feitz, the Toledo Blade reported that "The order was given, then and there (by Charles Morton, the manager of the Toledos--they weren't the Mud Hens yet) to play Walker and the beefy bluffer (Anson) was informed that he could play his team or go, just as he damn pleased." Anson actually played the game--Walker played right field for Toledo--because Toledo threatened to withhold his share of the gate receipts.

So in 1883, in the North, there were at least some whites who sympathised with African Americans and their right to play baseball. After all, 200,000 blacks had fought with the Union less than 20 years before. But Anson (who incidentally was from Iowa, not the South) and others kept hammering at the issue, and in 1887 the American Association gave in and banned blacks. (The National League didn't have any until 1947.) Whether this is Anson's responsibility or not (personally I doubt that any player or manager had that much clout with owners--then or ever) his well documented hatred of black people has linked him forever with the establishment of the color line in baseball.

Why did white people in the North allow the color line to be established in 1887? My guess is for the same reason they allowed Jim Crow laws to be passed in that decade, and allowed southern blacks to be disenfranchised--white Northerners just didn't care enough, after a long and bloody war (still the bloodiest in our history) to challenge Southern whites on this issue they felt so passionately about.

I also guess that Northern blacks were more concerned about the ways their southern brothers and sisters were being systematically terrorized by whites over so many other issues, and accordingly failed to speak out on an issue that was not a life and death matter. (I could be wrong about this, though. I just haven't seen anything that indicates any kind of outcry over the decision to ban African Americans, although I do know that one of Frederick Douglass' sons played on an all-black team in the 1870's, so Douglass, who lived until 1895, was certainly aware of the sport.)

Accordingly, I disagree with Eric's conclusion that "Anson was most likely just doing what he felt he had to do to assure the survival of his profession." I think Anson was behaving as many Southerners of his time behaved--using racist tactics to destroy the rights of black people to earn a decent living and participate fully in post-war American society, and return them to the subservient conditions they were in before the war. The basis of post-war Southern white tactics may indeed have been economic--to keep newly freed blacks from competing with them for jobs (which may have been Anson's motivation as well), but I don't think that the survival of professional baseball above the Mason-Dixon line depended on the existence of segregation.

One other thing. Carl Goetz wrote: "Even without Landis, I couldn't see integration happening before the war." The National Football League was integrated from its founding in 1919 until 1933, when the league banned African Americans from playing in their league. The NFL reintegrated in 1946, when the L.A. Rams hired Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. I agree with Carl that integration was unlikely before the war, but the war that created integration could have just as easily been World War I, when hundreds of thousands of black Americans served their country honorably--just as they did in World War II.
   11. Stephen Jordan Posted: November 13, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607195)
Well said Flatbush. Hat's off. You bring a lot of perspective to the subject.

I'd like to add a few other thoughts to support my statement concerning Cap Anson. It was on more than one occasion that Cap Anson voiced himself harshly to keep blacks from playing pro baseball.
Flatbush mentioned the exhibition game at Toledo. Cap Anson threatened not to play if someone didn't "get that n----- off the field!" Anson backed down only when he realized he'd forfeit his pay if he refused to play the game. Later, in 1887, Anson used his position and popularity to ban black pitcher George Stovey when John Montgomery Ward tried to sign him to the Giants. In an 1887 exhibition game Anson again protested against the use of both Stovey and Walker in a game. This time Anson got his way. Stovey and Walker remained on the bench and were not allowed to play.

Bill James has written that "Cap Anson was a blowhard . . . and the older he got, the harder he blew." Anson's autobiography, written in 1900, related in cheerful detail how Anson's team treated its "mascot," a black man named Clarence Duval whom Anson described as a "coon" and "a no-account n-----." Bill James wrote that "they treated Duval exactly as one would treat a dog." Anson echoed his sentiment all through the land that "Gentlemen don't play baseball with n-----s".

Some whites of the day publicly stood up for Fleet Walker, and his intelligence (interestingly, after baseball Walker registered two patents for his inventions). When a newspaper ridiculed him as "the coon catcher," the Sporting News came to his defense and wrote: "It is a pretty small paper that will publish a paragraph of that kind about a member of a visiting club, and the man who wrote it is without doubt Walker's inferior in education, refinement, and manliness." Unfortunately, people listened to Cap Anson, the prominent figure of baseball in the 1880s.

   12. eric Posted: November 13, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607200)
Okay, I'm convinced. Cap Anson probably was a jerk, and I was probably wrong in asserting that he was consciously thinking of the survival of his profession, he probably did just hate blacks. And, yes, there were a lot of people who supported civil rights back in the 1880's, my only question is are these the same people who would be paying customers for baseball games? I suspect that most of the white supporters of black rights were probably higher educated, which back then usually meant they came from rich families who kind of looked down on blue-collar recreation, which baseball clearly was. Blacks of the time probably didn't have the time or the money to spend on baseball games. The popular masses of the era had problems with Irish and Italian immigrants, let alone blacks, so I still have my doubts that baseball could have survived its infancy without a color line, which of course means that in 1947, Jackie Robinson doesn't have that platform on which to make the grand statement that needed to be made. Anyway, even if I'm wrong, thank you Flatbush and Stephen for the enlightening postings, I've learned a lot, and I certainly welcome any counter arguments to the points I've made this time. A demographic study of 1880's baseball fans would be most interesting although probably impossible.
   13. Flatbush Faithful Posted: November 14, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607218)
Before I start--Stephen, nice article! I really enjoyed it. Forgot to put that in my last post.

Eric: You raise some good questions in your latest post, and, in fact, your theory on why Anson wanted to ban blacks is an interesting one, as well?I just think it?s probably incorrect. I know a good deal more about 19th century American history than 19th century American baseball, and I hope someone who?s studied the subject in depth can weigh in on your question about attendance at professional games in the 1880?s. That being said, I have to disagree--based on what I know (or think I know) about your statement that baseball clearly was "blue collar recreation."

No one really knows when the first game of baseball was played, but we do know that the game was often played in the Northeast in the 1840's. There were different rules in Philadelphia and in New York, with a modified version of the New York game (the one Alexander Cartwright developed) being the one considered the direct ancestor of the one we know today. It was played by people who joined clubs for that players, whose players had enough money to buy uniforms and enough leisure time to be able to take off work while it was still daylight--almost certainly closer to white collar than blue collar.

The period between 1840 and 1860 is a time of great change in America (actually nearly every twenty year period is a period of great change in this country), because of the development of three things: the canal system, the telegraph, and the railroad. These things tied our new and expanding nation together--and led to the most profound change of all, the transformation of our rural, agrarian-based economy to an urban, factory-based society. (There are many historians who argue that this change, not slavery, is the primary cause of the Civil War, with the South rejecting industrialization and the North embracing it.)

The transformation to an industrial economy, and the ability to transport goods easily between American cities, as well as the communicate with other places at speeds faster than a horse could travel led directly to the development of a working class and a middle class in America. Unlike farmers, who led solitary lives of work from sunup to sundown--especially when the weather would be good enough to play ball--and who got plenty of exercise by working, the new middle classes led sedentary lives in the company of others, and often were able to take off time from their work.

People did know the value of exercise in the nineteenth century, and baseball, which could be played in any vacant lot, quickly became a popular way to get that exercise. It was also a big social event, and games were often followed by big team dinners (which, of course, negated the value of any exercise they might have gotten--sorta like playing softball with a keg of beer in the dugout!) Factory workers, by and large, didn't have the time or money to play.

Anyway, because of all this, baseball's popularity before the Civil War is among "white collar" not "blue collar" workers,and certainly not among farmers or slaves, who had neither the time nor the required number of players to get up a game. The Civil War changes baseball forever, as it does so many other things. Games at Army camps spread the popularity of the game everywhere, even (through games at POW camps) into the South. When the war ends, and the soldiers return home, baseball becomes the national pastime, known and played even in California.

The war gives working class people the opportunity to learn to play a game they might have only seen before from the window of the factory they worked in, and shows farmboys something new they had never seen, but which many must have been good at due to their superior physical condition.

At the end of the war, baseball's popularity explodes. Thousands of amateur clubs are formed everywhere (still mostly in cities), and the first professional clubs (Cincinnati, followed by others) are formed to give the amateurs some good competition. Then the professional clubs begin to play each other in exhibitions and leagues, the National Association is formed in 1871, and the rest is history, as they say.

At the professional level, baseball fairly quickly becomes a game played by immigrants and blue collar (or lower) workers. Baseball players were paid, and not badly, especially by the standards of the time. Being a professional ballplayer was an opportunity (as it is today) for a poor kid to escape poverty, or for an immigrant child to "make good." Those who had talent worked harder than those who had other, better career options than a life of backbreaking factory work--and because they worked harder, and practiced harder, they tended to get work in a business where "what you know" was more important than "who you know." Players further limited competition for those jobs by excluding a group that would have provided such competition very early on--African Americans.

On the amateur level, however, baseball continues to flourish among the middle and upper classes, who loved the game and needed the exercise, but not the money. Where there were a few hundred amateur clubs before the war, after the war there were thousands, far more popular in their own localities than the pros were. Middle and upper class athletes also were the ones with the time and the disposable income to pay money to watch the professionals play, especially after they got too old, or too injured, or too fat from the dinners, to play themselves. So my guess is that there was a fairly high, probably disproportionate, number of middle and upper class spectators at professional games in the 1880's.

We have a little physical evidence for this. A few "non-disposable" stadiums (that is, stadiums that were not bleacher seating on wood designed to last only a few years) were built during this period. The first of these was Lakefront Stadium in Chicago (built in 1877, not 1887 as Bill James writes), which featured eigteen private boxes with armchairs and curtains, and a pagoda for a brass band. The second was the first Baker Bowl (Huntington Grounds), built in 1884 in Philadelphia, with what was called "Pavilion Seating" for its more affluent customers; and the third was the second Polo Grounds, built in 1889, with a parking lot for horses and carriages behind a rope in deep center field where rich people could either leave their rigs or watch the game from there. So we know that some people with money did attend games (at least in the big cities) in the 1880's.

We also know that the National League had a policy, at least in the early years, of "no beer, no Sundays" which seems to me a marketing point that would appeal far more to white-collar fans than blue collar ones. (The American Association, IIRC, encouraged beer and liquor sales, played on Sundays, and charged half the price the NL charged for a ticket--25 cents instead of 50 cents. I'm thinking 19th century XFL here, only without the cheerleaders.)

So, all things considered, I return to where I began--higher educated people did go to baseball games in the 1880's, and Northern white crowds, where baseball was popular, probably would have accepted black ballplayers (at least until the early 1900's, when the vast migration of African Americans from the South to the North took place, poor blacks began competing with poor whites and new immigrants for subsistence level jobs, and Northern racism became far more malignant as a result.)

White players, however, faced competition from blacks for jobs far earlier, and thanks to Anson and his ilk, and the larger trend towards Jim Crow laws and segregation in 1880's America, were able to eliminate that competition by establishing the color line.

   14. Flatbush Faithful Posted: November 14, 2002 at 02:03 AM (#607219)
Lakefront Park, by the way, is the same Lakefront Park Stephen references. I guess that besides nice seating, people in the luxury boxes got to see a lot of scoring!
   15. eric Posted: November 16, 2002 at 02:04 AM (#607267)
I enjoy Flatbush's well thought out responses to my arguments so much that I don't even mind being wrong, if in fact, I am. In that spirit, I will bring up a couple of issues that haven't been addressed.

1. PROFESSIONALISM vs AMATEURISM: Flatbush correctly brings up the point that baseball in the 1840s and 50s was a gentlemanly social gathering of sedentary upper-class people who needed exercise. Athletic competition was a good way of promoting exercise, good health, teamwork, sportsmanship, etc. but in the view of the time, doing it for money was a bastardization of such principles. This was a hot issue in the late 1860s when the first professional clubs began to form, and eventually it got to the point where the gentleman amateurs refused to play the roughneck professional mercenaries. This is why a National Association had to be formed, so the pros could play each other.

Anyway, the social elite of the era (again, the people most likely to be educated) still clung to the belief that professionalism had no place in athletics. It is no coincidence that the modern Olympic Games, founded only a decade after the period in question in 1896, were based primarily on the principles of amateurism, and it is also not a coincidence that it took nearly another fifty years for professional football to emerge, even though it was wildly successful in college starting right around this time. It was beneath a college graduate to engage in such frivolity for money, when he could be better serving society elsewhere.

So the only major professional sports of the late 1800s (at least that I'm aware of) were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. We all know that boxing and horse racing appeal more as a form of gambling than as a form of family entertainment, and from what I've read regarding baseball history, there was a major criminal gambling element supporting baseball as well. Certainly not the people that the educated upper-class of society would want to be associated with.

Which bring me to the second issue:

2) OLD MONEY vs. NEW MONEY: Flatbush also correctly asserts that people who attended baseball games in the 1880s must have had spare time and disposable income to watch day games that did not take place on Sunday. (A result of city and state laws, not marketing.) And it is true that special amenities were made available to the particularly wealthy. But one must remember that the 1880s were a boom time for the U.S. economy, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the Civil War was behind us. Because of that, two new groups emerged. One was a middle class. Certainly working conditions were still deplorable for many and the notions of 40 hour work weeks and paid vacations were still many years away, but they were improving enough to the point that the dream existed that if one worked hard enough and saved, that one could get out of the sweatshops and start one's own business, or, barring that, they could at least move up in the business that they were in. Many were able to do just that, not necessarily getting rich, but living comfortably enough to have some leisure time.

Which leads to the second new group, the entrepenuerial rich. These are the people who, not through education, but through hard work, street smarts, and sometimes through ruthless destruction of the competition, went from rags to riches. Many of these people didn't have a college education, so they didn't associate with the old money people who may have looked down on professional baseball, but they enjoyed baseball and they sent their kids to college, which is why we see more college-educated ball players in the next generation.

I would suggest that it is the above two groups, along with aforementioned criminal element that made up the bulk of the baseball crowds of the late 1800s. Are these the people who would express moral outrage at segregation? After all, while all of this was going on, in the West, a systematic destruction of Native American tribes was happening and whites didn't have a problem with that, in fact they glorified it. My suspicion is that most of these people didn't care one way or another how blacks were treated because it was "not my problem" and the rest were violently opposed to blacks being on the same playing field with whites. I've noticed that no mention has been made of how Fleet Walker was treated by the crowds when he did play, but I'm sure it wasn't good.

My point is that the masses weren't clamoring for black baseball players and many probably would have been turned off by them. As it was, the sterotypical image of the professional baseball player at the time was one of a lower class roughneck, either an immigrant or an illiterate country hick, who fought a lot, drank a lot, and probably couldn't function if he had to get a real job. Including people who were held in even lower regard than that, even though certainly the right thing to do, had the potential to be a public relations disaster that an upstart venture like baseball was at the time probably couldn't afford.

So, looking back now, unfortunately we are left with an ethical dillema. Was Cap Anson wrong? Absolutely. Was Cap Anson a racist jerk? Undoubtedly. But was he a necessary evil, without which baseball never would have exploded in popularity as it did? Even Bill James, who everybody here likes to quote, acknowledges that fact. (See page 436 of the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.) So if one loves baseball, as everybody on this web site clearly does, one doesn't have to love Cap Anson, but one at least has to respect his accomplishments. Much as if you love democracy, you have to acknowledge Thomas Jefferson, who not only owned slaves, but fathered a child by one of them.

Anyway, like I said, even if I am wrong, which is possible, thank you for the debate, Flatbush. I've learned a lot and would like to learn more. Any good book suggestions?
   16. Flatbush Faithful Posted: November 18, 2002 at 02:05 AM (#607297)
Eric: Thanks again for the kind words. I don?t think we?re having a "debate" here actually, so much as engaging in a common quest towards a workable hypothesis?a quest I?m enjoying very much, and which I hope you are, too (and anyone else who?s reading this thread.) I only feel badly we?ve hijacked the discussion away from poor Stephen?s excellent article, but I hope he doesn?t mind.

We apparently are agreed that the typical baseball fan of the 1880?s (as opposed to the typical baseball player) was either a member of the emerging American middle class or a newly rich member of society, someone who took advantage of the opportunities for wealth the Gilded Age offered. You think, however, that many of these people would have been "turned off" by black ballplayers, and I don?t. Here?s why I think the way I do.

First, let?s make a distinction between the South and the North. Every white person, of every class, in the South would have been "turned off" by black ballplayers in the 1880?s. They basically thought blacks were subhuman?but more than that, they blamed blacks for the ruin of their land and wealth that the Civil War brought. (Of course, they should have blamed themselves?but the fact is, they didn?t.)

In the North, at least in the 1880?s, things were different. There weren?t many black people (as late 1940, only 10 percent of America?s blacks lived north of the Mason-Dixon line---estimates are that in the 188?s blacks made up only 2 percent of the population of the North). Also Northerners remembered that 200,000 blacks had fought on the side of the Union (and 30,000 were killed) and many Northerners thought that true freedom for blacks was part of the cause they themselves had fought for, and so many of their brothers, sons and fathers had died for.

There are, of course, many examples of Northern racism, especially in New York City (the Colored Orphan Asylum fire in 1862 being the most egregious example)?and racism gets much worse in the North after about 1900, when the expansion of jobs brought about by the post-Civil War expansion of our economy slows down, and blacks fleeing the South and immigrants are competing for work on the lowest rung of our economic ladder.

But even at its worst, racism in the North was nothing like racism in the South: in the North, blacks never had to sit in the back of the bus or use a separate drinking fountain or attend school systems run only for blacks?or submit to any of the hundreds of different indignities that Southern blacks underwent every day. It has always been hard for blacks in America?but it has always been (at least historically) a lot harder in the South.

The whole concept of segregation, or exclusion, is a Southern concept?except in baseball, and a few other places. Those few other places included Northern labor unions, which excluded blacks very early on. It seems obvious to me that this is based less on racism than on economic exclusionism, and that racism is the cover used to justify that exclusionism.

Why would the Northern middle and upper classes want to support segregation? The answer is, they wouldn?t. The emerging middle class was primarily still composed of tradesmen (shopkeepers, etc.) in the 1880?s, and it was in their interest to have as many paying customers as possible. And the wealthy?those who employed others for their wealth?had even less interest in being exclusionary: the more workers available in the labor pool, the lower the wages they needed to offer!

Northern racism of the exclusionary kind (not the genteel kind that the upper classes practiced?the ones who thought blacks and Jews and Irish were "not our kind") was the province of lower class roughnecks like, well, like 19th century baseball players.

You mentioned that there were three major sports in the 19th century (and I?m not aware of any others, either)?baseball, boxing, and horse racing. And of the three, the only sport in which blacks are excluded at that time is?baseball. Blacks dominated the jockey profession at the time; an African American named Isaac Murphy is still considered by some the greatest jockey that ever lived, and 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derby?s were won by black jockeys?and the Derby, of course, was held in the South. And boxing has always been an integrated sport?you know the story of Jack Johnson, but there were lots of other black prizefighters. True, Johnson faced a great deal of white hostility, but no one ever told him he couldn?t box or try to win; and his victory over Jack Jeffries in 1908 was a cause for rejoicing for black people everywhere.

So why is baseball different? Not because the owners clamored for it (my guess is they would have been happy to pay blacks less than whites to play) or the fans wanted it (they seemed willing to put up with black competition in other sports) but because the players?read Anson and his ilk?wanted it. Some, being Southern, wanted it simply because they were Southerners?and others wanted it to limit their competition for jobs.

Baseball could?I say could, because hypotheses of alternative universes are by nature speculative?have remained integrated, at least until the early 20th century when Northern racism takes hold. And it might even, like boxing, have remained integrated throughout its history, but for Anson?s rebellion, which took pace, as I posted earlier, in the midst of a terrible decade for African Americans, when the promise of the years immediately after the civil war were rapidly disappearing in the South, and more slowly in the North.

Cap Anson is hardly the only racist in baseball history; but he had the misfortune of being outspoken and influential at a time when the future of blacks in Major League baseball hung in the balance; and he had the further misfortune of being spectacularly wrong. He did, as Marc said, have a choice, as did all players at that time?and even with the distance of 125 years, he has to be held accountable for that choice.

As you point out, Eric, Cap Anson did do some good things, but Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Hitler was among the first to run anti-smoking campaigns because German scientists discovered the link between smoking and cancer, and Stalin was our ally during World War II. As Shakespeare wrote "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." So let it be with Anson; I don?t think he?s worth defending.

Anyway, what to read? First, read Been in the Storm So Long, and, especially, its sequel Trouble in Mind by Leon Litwack, which are the two great books about slavery and its aftermath, particularly in the South. Trouble in Mind is particularly good on the economic components of racism. Then try The Unsteady March by Philip Kiknkner, which is great on Civil Rights advances and retreats throughout our history, and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom?s America in Black and White, which is original in thought and optimistic about the future of race relations. All of these books are long, but readable, and should give you the sense that racism is not a monolithic problem or attitude, but ever-changing and shifting along with the times.

Marc: Didn?t want to ignore your request, especially after you were also so complimentary about mine. For the record, today I will pledge to support any gay ballplayer who comes out, will cheer him if he plays well for the Mets or for a team whose victory will help the Mets in the standings, and will boo him if he plays well for the Yankees or any team whose victory will help the Yanks in the standings. In other words, I?ll treat him like any other ballplayer, which my guess is the majority of fans will do. If he needs additional support because ignoramuses are booing him just because he is gay, I?ll speak out against that if I find an appropriate forum.

But it seems to me that the gay community doesn?t need my support at this time, or the support of any of today?s Branch Rickeys in baseball front offices. What is needed is a Jackie Robinson to come out publicly; to demonstrate my hypothesis that there won?t be much adverse reaction to an openly gay ballplayer, either in the clubhouse or in the stands. That pioneer should be able to weather the storm if it proves otherwise, and to serve as a role model and exemplar for others and for young people. There have always been gay ballplayers, there almost certainly are some today, and my bet is that one of them will come out successfully within the next few years. I certainly hope so, anyway.

Sorry this post ran so long?and sorry again, Stephen, to have hijacked your thread. I?d welcome anyone?s comments.


   17. eric Posted: November 22, 2002 at 02:06 AM (#607359)
This will be my last posting on the subject, because I've pretty much run out of things to say, and it is amazing how far off we've gotten off of Stephen's original article, which I agree was very good.

I think the biggest reason Jackie Robinson was originally accepted by whites after some initial resistance in 1947 wasn't so much that what he was doing was right and just nor was it for his incredible courage, as it was for the fact that, with his daring style of play, he was just flat out fun to watch. So I will concede, given the evidence presented to me, that if somebody like a Jackie Robinson or a Willie Mays (or for that matter, an Oscar Charleston or Satchel Paige) had come along in the 1880s with that special type of charisma, then maybe, they would have been accepted and baseball still would have emerged as the national pastime. Of course, that could never happen because Cap Anson and others prevented it, and that is a crying shame.

As for the point of defending Cap Anson, I don't think I really want to defend him so much as I want to prevent oversimplifing the issue. I realize that painting a demonic racist characature of him feels good to us here in the 21st century, because it enables us to say, "And, of course, I would never do that." The problem is, one, scapegoating Cap Anson lets way too many other people off the hook, and, two, the "I would never do that" mentality, without at least attempting to understand the context of why he did it, produces the exact sort of closed-minded self-righteousness that leads to things like Cap Anson's racism, and endangers us of doing just exactly the same thing to some other group (maybe gays, maybe Muslims, maybe somebody else we just don't think about) and that alone should scare the hell out of us.

Lastly, regarding the notion that Cap Anson CHOSE to be a racist. I can only agree with that on a superficial level. People CHOOSE to be Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, too, but that only occurs after somebody they know and respect has TAUGHT them that belief system. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, somebody, maybe parents, maybe a respected mentor, or who knows, TAUGHT Cap Anson that blacks were inferior and that whites shouldn't associate with them, and absent early exposure to evidence to the contrary (remember, he didn't grow up watching The Cosby Show or old film clips of Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech) it became such an ingrained part of his belief system, that by the time he may have become aware of another view, it was too late to change his mind. Unfortunately, when the time came when he could act upon those beliefs, he had attained so much prestige that his word became law.

So the moral of the story, it seems to me, is that in order to prevent history from repeating itself, we have to give some thought as to why otherwise good people (whether Anson fits this mold, I don't know, but obviously SOMEBODY liked him) can have such evil thoughts and do such evil things, so that the good people of today and the future can prevent being seduced by them. So, yes, Cap Anson should be held accountable, but let's just keep in perspective that Cap Anson was a merely a very powerful symptom, not the entirety of the disease.

Well, that's my two cents, thank you Stephen, Flatbush, Marc, et. al. for the discussion. I've enjoyed it.
   18. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: September 10, 2007 at 02:51 PM (#2518188)
I know it's common knowledge that Landis was a racist, but is the common knowledge true? In other words, was he prejudiced or was he cowardly (towards integration)?

Just curious.


I think that Norman Macht had a presentation at this year's SABR Convention that argued that the color line was more the product of the owners. I didn't catch that presentation though. Perhaps someone else here did.
   19. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 30, 2007 at 04:52 AM (#2656689)
I think that Norman Macht had a presentation at this year's SABR Convention that argued that the color line was more the product of the owners. I didn't catch that presentation though. Perhaps someone else here did.


Really weird to have a question of mine from 5 years ago answered, but thanks Jon. :-)
   20. walt williams bobblehead Posted: December 30, 2007 at 05:55 AM (#2656703)
Didn't Sammy Sosa hold the single season home run record very briefly?
   21. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 30, 2007 at 08:30 AM (#2656757)
Yes. On September 25, 1998, Sosa hit his 66th home run in a day game, while McGwire had 65. McGwire hit his 66th that night, and then hit 4 more in the final two games. So Sosa held the record for a few hours.
   22. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: December 30, 2007 at 08:33 AM (#2656758)
Or slightly longer, when you consider him as the co-holder at 65, and 66.

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